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"Martin Luther King Jr. wouldn’t have wanted these violent protests.": A Response

It is not anyone’s place to glamorize the Civil Rights Movement, or to assume what Dr. King would believe if he were alive today.

     White people explaining Martin Luther King (MLK) Jr.’s activism to Black people is extremely condescending. It is important not to glamorize the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement, as many of the historical marches that have been circulating on social media often ended tragically. Protests were not peaceful for the protestors, even when they remained nonviolent. The police, KKK, and White Americans were extremely violent towards peaceful Black protesters and many Black people were injured or killed. Interestingly, while many protestors remained peaceful, some demonstrations during the Birmingham campaign were intended to provoke a hostile response from Whites. Violence is a headline grabber, and protesters intended to expose the brutalities of Jim Crow America to the broader population. Additionally, while MLK advocated for non-violence, other Civil Right leaders didn’t, like Malcolm X. But that’s a different topic. 

     The same people who use Dr. King’s words against the protestors likely haven’t approved of peaceful protests in the past either.

At the end of the day, we don’t know what MLK Jr. would have wanted because he was killed like many other Civil Rights-era activists. What we do know, however, is that he said, “A riot is the language of the unheard. And what has America failed to hear?” Black Americans haven’t been heard for a really long time. They were criticized for peaceful protests, such as kneeling during the national anthem and wearing shirts that said “I can't breathe” during a basketball game. They’ve been peacefully marching and protesting against police brutality and systemic racism for decades, but nothing has changed.  Bernice King, MLK’s daughter, said that “many who quote him now and evoke him to deter justice today would likely hate, and may already hate, the authentic King.” Before he died, 63% of America viewed Dr. King unfavorably, but then the US glamorized him when he was killed. Those who bring up MLK are undermining the protests and riots occurring today, regardless of their intentions. As Martin Luther King Jr. said the  “certain conditions” which exist in society have to be “condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots.” 

     Dr. King also said: “The white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man's freedom” is the greatest obstacle for Black liberation in America.

     Instead of focusing your attention on all the violent riots, recognize that riots are a symptom of the problem of racism, not the problem itself. There would be no riots in the first place if White people had listened to Black voices during the past several decades.

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Marcella Rodio


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